Human Right Watch: Kosovo's justice system threats future stability

Kosovo's ineffective criminal justice system is failing victims in the disputed province posing a threat to its future stability, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday. Authorities have failed to address key problems with legislation, police and the courts in the seven years since the United Nations took over administering Kosovo, Human Rights Watch said in a 74-page report.

"Right now, accountability for past crimes isn't on the agenda for Kosovo. But resolving Kosovo's status without fixing the justice system will poison its future," Holly Carter, the group's Europe and Central Asia director, said in a statement. The report is a blow to U.N.-led efforts to establish stability and democracy in the ethnically divided province. While Kosovo has a government and fledgling ministries of justice and police, ultimate responsibility lies with the world body as it steers the province toward independence.

Neeraj Singh, spokesman for the U.N. in Kosovo, said the mission welcomed the report's recommendations for improving what he called "the evolving criminal justice system in Kosovo." U.N.-mediated talks to determine Kosovo's future status are under way in Vienna , Austria , with Western envoys aiming to finish the process by the end of 2006.

The most likely outcome of the talks is some form of independence for Kosovo on the condition Kosovo can protect Serbs and other minorities in the ethnic Albanian majority province. The United Nations has administered Kosovo a 1999 NATO air war to halt a Serb crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians. About 10,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands ethnic Albanians displaced during the war.

In the years after the war, many Serbs fell victim to vengeful ethnic Albanians. The worst violence after the war took place during two days of anti-Serb rioting in March 2004: at least 600 Serbs' homes and 30 church were torched and some 4,000 people, mainly Serbs, were forced to flee. An estimated 50,000 ethnic Albanians participated in the rioting but fewer than 430 of them were charged, mostly for minor offenses, and only half of them were convicted and sentenced, the rights report noted, reports the AP.

N.U.

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